Shea Reviews – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Note: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. If you haven’t already seen the movie and are reading this review, chances are, you’re going to see it anyway. You should do that, and then come back to read my thoughts. They’ll still be here.

 

I grew up watching Star Wars — fast-forwarding through George Lucas’ long-ass interviews with Leonard Maltin on the special edition VHS of the original trilogy. The first one I saw in theatres was The Phantom Menace, when I was 11. I loved it because I didn’t know any better. I’ve become wiser with age. I saw Revenge of the Sith three times in the first week it released, despite being underwhelmed by the movie. I cried when I saw the first trailer for The Force Awakens. That moment when the main theme blares as the Millennium Falcon swoops across the screen was just perfect.

It’s been an up and down journey for us Star Wars nerds, to say the least. Hit or miss comics, George Lucas going off the deep end and maintaining that Greedo always shot first, the dozens of fantastic books effectively becoming fan-fiction when Disney elected to wipe the canon slate clean. But through everything, it was hard to lose my optimism for the franchise. There were just too many loveable characters, too many stories to be told, too many colors and explosions and laughs and tears and Jedi mind tricks to ever lose hope.

I didn’t like The Last Jedi, and we’ll get to the many reasons why over the next two thousand words. But I want to make it clear that I’m not being dramatic about this. It isn’t a worse movie than The Phantom Menace, it hasn’t killed the franchise, and it won’t keep me from going to see Episode IX. But for the third time under Disney’s influence, it has lowered the bar. It has underwhelmed and frustrated. Unfortunately, it has killed a little bit of that hope.

The Last Jedi brings the same darker tone that The Empire Strikes Back did.

Let’s talk about the story. To put it simply, the plot of The Last Jedi just isn’t deserving of a two-and-a-half-hour movie. “We’re trying to escape and our ship is running out of fuel” is the plot of a filler episode of Star Trek — something to hit that 24-episode season minimum, not something to anchor the middle chapter of your new trilogy. It just isn’t that compelling of a problem. I’m certainly not advocating for another Death Star story, but there has to be a middle ground in there somewhere.

To top it off, the entire B plot — where Finn and Rose leave the convoy to recruit someone to help them hack the technology that’s allowing the First Order to keep up — only exists because Vice Admiral Holdo withholdos vital information about the escape plan. And when Finn and Rose get back from their needlessly long sojourn with DJ? None of it was even necessary in the first place because the real plan — sacrificing the main ship so that smaller ones can escape — already happened.

And to make matters worse, Finn and Rose fail in their mission. They don’t hack the systems. They get caught and betrayed. And nothing happens. There are no consequences for their failure, so why should I be invested? I understand that Finn learns a lesson about how the rebellion is personal and it makes him less selfish, but that’s character stuff. The B story in The Last Jedi is literally meaningless to the A story.

Not all of Luke’s decisions in The Last Jedi make sense, but it’s still great seeing him on screen again.

I’ve seen a fair amount of criticism saying that Luke didn’t feel like Luke. I understand the perspective, but he was always a character that struggled with light and dark, with staying positive, with stubbornness. His reaction to most events and interactions with Rey felt right to me, and for the record, I enjoyed pretty much everything that happened on Ahch-To (Rey’s visit to mirror world and that terrible thala-siren milking scene, notwithstanding). However, I definitely think the backstory of Kylo Ren’s fall was a bit absurd. After Luke’s whole successful journey of bringing Vader back to the light, it’s hard to believe that he’d so easily ponder murdering his nephew after getting a bad force vibe. That twist felt unjustified.

Speaking of bad force vibes, if Snoke was meant to be the new Darth Sidious, and even goes so far as to prove he can read the mind and emotions of Kylo Ren at all times, how in the world did he not notice that Kylo was turning his lightsaber toward his mid-section? Not only was Snoke an under-developed and under-utilized character, he goes out in laughable, embarrassing fashion.

Speaking of embarrassing under-utilization (my segues are on point), couldn’t the writers think of something better for Poe to do during the movie? The poor guy just ran around the main ship the whole time, complaining that no one would help him. He’s a charismatic, badass character than deserves better than to be the one left out of all the fun. Rose is fine, and certainly continues the important push toward diversity in Star Wars, but wouldn’t the B story have been better with Finn and Poe — two characters that already have a friendship, that we already know and care about? I just never made a connection with Rose, and her “came from nothing” story and remembrance of her sister never came together in a satisfying way.

Speaking of coming from nothing (I promise I’m done), I get that Rey is uniquely powerful in the force. She’d already shown an aptitude for combat, so I get how she took up her lightsaber so quickly. But what I don’t get is how she can understand the depths of what the force actually is mere seconds into her first meditation session.

The scenes between Rey and Luke are some of The Last Jedi’s few highlights.

I don’t have a problem with her parents being nobodies — in fact, that’s the way I wanted it to play out. But the dismissiveness with how that twist was revealed — along with how Snoke was killed and how Luke threw away his old lightsaber — just felt like a slap in the face for folks that really care about the world and lore of Star Wars. I’m not saying Rian Johnson isn’t allowed to somewhat abandon the old things for sake of the new, but these were huge mysteries that were established in the direct previous film. And none of them mattered in this one. If Luke isn’t going to take up his old lightsaber, great! I’m totally down with that. But throwing it over his shoulder like that honestly comes across as an “I don’t want to play with your toys because I brought my own” move from Johnson, and that rubs me the wrong way.

And oh boy, the humor in this movie. I’m not blind, I know that Star Wars is still just as much aimed at kids and toy sales as the original trilogy. What were the Ewoks other than kid-friendly distractions while people were dying in a rebellion? But what I don’t like about the humor in The Last Jedi isn’t that I didn’t find it funny — because while true, that’s simply a matter of taste — and more that Rian Johnson and the writers/producers felt the need to undercut otherwise dramatic, intense moments with jokes. It simply lessens their effectiveness. Why does Luke need to dust his shoulder off after surviving a barrage of lasers from the New Order AT-ATs? It just isn’t necessary.

On the other hand, that whole scene where Leia saves herself by flying through space? Easily the funniest moment of the movie.

It feels like rushed storytelling for Rey to so quickly master most aspects of The Force.

The very end scene features kids on the planet Canto Bight talking about the rebellion, and ends with one of the children using the force to pick up his broom before holding it like a lightsaber. It was adorable and gave me the feelies, I won’t deny it. But let’s think about the implications of that scene, combined with the final moments of our heroes’ climactic escape minutes before. The whole message of this is that the rebellion is alive and growing in the hearts of the young, and as long as young people are willing to fight, evil will never win for long. At least, that’s what I took away from it.

But here’s the thing: Leia and the rebels put out a call to all their remaining allies while they were trapped on Crait, and no one came. This was their final, desperate act — potentially the last stand of the rebellion — and no one showed up to help. Why am I now supposed to believe that they have allies and that the rebellion isn’t doomed? Will that little kid be given a lightsaber and put on the front lines? The original rebellion at least had some funding and support from non-combatants. It certainly feels like the only rebels left now are the ones aboard the Millennium Falcon. I’m not sure there’s any practicality in that hope.

On the positive side, a special shout out to the moment where Holdo flies the ship in hyperspace straight through the New Order fleet. That was easily the coolest shot of the film.

You definitely feel Rey being pulled between light and dark throughout the film.

I don’t feel the need to spend much time talking about the sights and sounds of The Last Jedi. There are some fun chase sequences (not including Finn and Rose’s escape via fathier), some great lightsaber/force fights, and plenty of visual spectacle. John Williams’ score is also — expectedly — fantastic. I still firmly consider him one of the greatest movie composers ever.

I do want to address some dismissive arguments by the pro-Last Jedi camp. People seem to be pointing at folks like myself that were underwhelmed by Force Awakens and Last Jedi and saying, “You guys didn’t like Force Awakens because it was too similar, now you’re hating Last Jedi because it’s too different.”

I don’t see any universe where The Last Jedi can be considered a vast departure from the Star Wars films before it.

Sure, there’s no Death Star. But you know what there is? There’s an untrained force-user seeking reluctant help from a curmudgeonly teacher on a remote planet. There’s that same force-user struggling with light vs dark, visiting a place filled with the dark side, and leaving in a hurry to save their friends — against the council of their teacher. There’s the belief that an evil person, who has committed unbelievable acts of darkness, could be turned to the light against all odds. There’s a malevolent, mysterious Sith Lord manipulating events. There’s the Sith Lord’s apprentice, with secret goals of acquiring a new apprentice and taking down their master. There’s a new character that seems like he might betray the good guys and then does, surprising no one. There’s an armor-wearing badass that goes out like a punk, with little to no character development. There’s the rebels’ final stand against insurmountable odds, that leads to an escape despite heavy losses. Finally, there’s a confrontation between our Jedi hero and Sith enemy that ends with the Sith killing his master.

So yes, The Last Jedi doesn’t simply rip its story and themes from Empire Strikes Back the way The Force Awakens ripped from A New Hope. But that’s only because The Last Jedi rips from both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

I wasn’t disappointed in The Last Jedi because it felt too different. I was disappointed because it still felt the same, despite its supposed attempts to be different.

Do I think Episode IX will buck this trend and give us something truly new in this universe? At this point, no. My expectations are for more of the same. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. The Force Awakens is still a fun movie, and there are bits and pieces of fun scattered around the complete mess that is The Last Jedi’s story. But neither The Force Awakens, Rogue One, nor The Last Jedi was what I hoped they would be.

6.7/10

Want to see how The Last Jedi stacks up against the other films? Check out my Star Wars movie ranking!

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